Saturday, December 24, 2016

Herbie Hancock - 1965 [1999] "Maiden Voyage"

Maiden Voyage is the fifth album led by jazz musician Herbie Hancock, and was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder on March 17, 1965 for Blue Note Records. It was issued as BLP 4195 and BST 84195. It is a concept album aimed at creating an oceanic atmosphere. Many of the track titles refer to marine biology or the sea, and the musicians develop the concept through their use of space and almost tidal dynamics. The album was presented with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999.
According to Bob Blumenthal's 1999 liner notes, "Blue Note logs indicate that an attempt had been made to record 'Maiden Voyage', 'Little One', and 'Dolphin Dance' six days earlier, with Hubbard on cornet and Stu Martin in place of Williams. Those performances were rejected at the time and have been lost in the ensuing years." A different version of "Little One" was also recorded around the same time by Miles Davis and his quintet (including Hancock, Carter, Shorter and Williams) for the album E.S.P., also released in 1965.

"Maiden Voyage", "The Eye of the Hurricane" and "Dolphin Dance" have now become jazz standards and are featured in Hal Leonard's New Real Book vol. 2. Hancock rerecorded "Maiden Voyage" and "Dolphin Dance" on his 1974 album Dedication and updated the title track on his 1988 album Perfect Machine. "Dolphin Dance" was rerecorded in 1981 for the Herbie Hancock Trio album. Hancock has released live concert versions of "Maiden Voyage" on CoreaHancock (1979) and An Evening With Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea: In Concert (1980) (both with Chick Corea). Hancock recorded "Maiden Voyage" and "Eye of the Hurricane" with the VSOP Quintet on VSOP: Tempest in the Colosseum (1977).

The history of jazz is often told through the exploits of its firestarters, outsized personalities like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis who sent shockwaves through every bandstand they visited. That’s the headline level, and it’s useful for understanding various periods and styles. But as the music evolved and expanded in the 1960s, priorities shifted, and so did the roles of the players. There was need for musicians who were perhaps not always so flamboyant. The collective pursuit of a sound became as important as individual heroics, and that created opportunities for gifted team players and facilitators, musicians who sought to complement what was happening rather than dazzle people all the time.
Maiden Voyage springs from the mind of one of the most adept and creative of the sound-sculpting facilitators, pianist and composer Herbie Hancock. By the time he recorded this, Hancock had been in the Miles Davis Quintet for several years, an experience he, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, the rhythm section here, all described as transformative. Among Hancock’s tasks in that group was to create expansive landscapes for Davis; the pianist stoked and framed what became epic discussions by drawing on a range of sources. His accompaniments might glance at the syncopated jabs of 1920s Ellington, or the clusters of free jazz, or the gorgeous pastel chords associated with Debussy. Hancock has said that in the Davis fold he learned about space and subtlety, about how something small and slight, like a three-note chord, could trigger torrents of spontaneous creativity. To hear that in action, consult virtually any recording of the ‘60s Quintet.
Or check out this record, because Hancock brought those strategies for conjuring and slyly shaping a tune into his own projects. Maiden Voyage, arguably his peak solo statement from the 1960s, appropriates elements of the Davis group dynamic for a transfixingly understated meditation on the lure of the sea. It’s a classic that’s justifiably revered for its compositions and its solos, and also, perhaps most importantly, the rich and delicate interactions that run throughout. The album is a perfect case study in the art of group interplay; it offers an array of thoughtful answers to the question “How, exactly, does conversation happen in jazz?” Hancock starts with the notion of melody: Each of these five pieces is built around a singable theme, one that’s durable enough to be inverted, paraphrased or passed around the group in the heat of improvisation. The melodies of Hancock’s tunes serve as a kind of through-line, echoing in the margins. Hancock refers to his themes, in oblique ways, when accompanying trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and tenor saxophonist George Coleman: He’s cultivating an atmosphere of expansive openness, and sometimes those glancing references help remind everyone involved about the dimensions of the canvas, the color palette and overall tone. This tactic proves particularly wise on the deceptively challenging “Dolphin Dance:” The mood is placid but the solos get stormy, and whenever it seems like the music is about to fracture, Hancock slips in some little phrase that gathers everyone back together.
In the headstrong jazz year 1965, lots of players were screaming “Look what I can do!” trying to grab attention by any contrived means possible. Hancock’s Maiden Voyage represents the flipside of all that: His windblown, undulating, intentionally low-key environment proceeds from the belief, acquired from Davis, that a minimal setting can inspire all kinds of meaningful musical conversations. Everybody is listening carefully, and out to enhance the proceedings. There is great grace, and concision, in every gesture here, and it’s not an accident that within these discussions, there are also bold, wailing outbursts and provocations. That’s what happens when everyone involved is in pursuit of musical aptness rather than audacity.

Less overtly adventurous than its predecessor, Empyrean Isles, Maiden Voyage nevertheless finds Herbie Hancock at a creative peak. In fact, it's arguably his finest record of the '60s, reaching a perfect balance between accessible, lyrical jazz and chance-taking hard bop. By this point, the pianist had been with Miles Davis for two years, and it's clear that Miles' subdued yet challenging modal experiments had been fully integrated by Hancock. Not only that, but through Davis, Hancock became part of the exceptional rhythm section of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, who are both featured on Maiden Voyage, along with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and tenor saxophonist George Coleman. The quintet plays a selection of five Hancock originals, many of which are simply superb showcases for the group's provocative, unpredictable solos, tonal textures, and harmonies. While the quintet takes risks, the music is lovely and accessible, thanks to Hancock's understated, melodic compositions and the tasteful group interplay. All of the elements blend together to make Maiden Voyage a shimmering, beautiful album that captures Hancock at his finest as a leader, soloist, and composer. 

"In January 1965, jazz pianist Herbie Hancock received a call from a Hollywood jingle agency. Its client, Yardley, needed background music for a TV commercial and wanted a trio playing something jazzy, since the men’s fragrance ad took place in a sophisticated club. But instead of writing straight-ahead jazz, Mr. Hancock arranged a catchy rhythmic line that was closer to rock.

"In the weeks ahead, Mr. Hancock completed the assignment and then used the rhythmic chords as the bones for Maiden Voyage—the title song of what would become his most iconic and majestic album. The recording combined the freer, modal jazz popular at the time with a fresh romantic lyricism and vulnerability. The result is a timeless, career-defining opus of emotional uncertainty and guarded optimism——an album that would become his equivalent to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.”

"In the years since the release of Maiden Voyage, the album’s title song, The Eye of the Hurricane and Dolphin Dance have become jazz standards, and the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. Today, 50 years after it was recorded on March 17, 1965, Maiden Voyage remains Blue Note’s third-most-popular legacy album and Mr. Hancock’s No. 2 best-selling recording after Head Hunters, his electro-funk hit from 1973."

Track listing

All compositions by Herbie Hancock.

1.     "Maiden Voyage"       7:53
2.     "The Eye of the Hurricane"       5:57
3.     "Little One"       8:43
4.     "Survival of the Fittest"       9:59
5.     "Dolphin Dance"       9:16


    Herbie Hancock — piano
    Freddie Hubbard — trumpet
    George Coleman — tenor saxophone
    Ron Carter — bass
    Tony Williams — drums



  2. A jazz classic. Thank you.